Ann denied freeman honour

Ann Liverton

Ann Liverton - Credit: Archant

A dedicated public servant and volunteer has missed out on becoming an honorary freeman of Sidmouth – because civic leaders feared rewarding a Conservative could be seen as a ‘political act’.

Ann Liverton looked set to have the honour conferred upon her at an extraordinary meeting on Monday after losing the seat she had held on the town council for 23 years at May’s election.

But Councillor Kelvin Dent told the meeting his former colleague’s status as a prominent Tory made him ‘uncomfortable’ and was bringing party politics into the chamber.

Afterwards, Mrs Liverton told the Herald that was exactly what he had done, and described losing out after 23 years as ‘a slap in the face’.

“I have a lot of admiration for Mrs Liverton – but we don’t do politics in the town council,” Cllr Dent told the meeting. “He [Cllr David Addis, who proposed that Mrs Liverton received the title] failed to mention a particular political party Mrs Liverton was associated with.

“It’s a political party many struggle to empathise with in Sidmouth. It worries me it will be seen as a political act.”

All councils have the power to grant the title of freeman to persons of distinction or who have rendered eminent service in an area.

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Civic leaders had agreed in the confidential section of June’s meeting to bestow the honour – but then failed to vote it through at this week’s extraordinary meeting.

Town council vice-chairman Ian McKenzie-Edwards, who stood as Conservative district council candidate in May, said: “I would totally refute that there is politics in this chamber. We leave our politics outside. We’re here for the benefit of Sidmouth – full stop.”

Cllr Addis cited Mrs Liverton’s work with parent-teacher associations, as a Bicton College governor, with Sidmouth Consolidated Charities and in numerous roles with the town’s youths for more than 40 years. Mrs Liverton has also served as a district councillor, chaired the authority and been named one of its honorary aldermen.

Given the unexpected controversy, chairman Jeff Turner took the vote by secret ballot. It failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to confer the title.

Mrs Liverton told the Herald the title itself did not matter to her, but the vote had been ‘vindictive and thoroughly nasty’. “It’s a huge retrograde step for the town,” she said.

“Party politics have only been brought in since the last election. The town council has always been totally independent – we always prided ourselves on that. I don’t think there’s an independent among them – they’re rooting for the East Devon Alliance.

“Heaven help the future of Sidmouth Town Council.”